Entering the Temple

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

One hot summer, two Christians were walking through parched farmland, when they met a farmer. He started complaining that it hadn’t rained for weeks and if they didn’t see some rain soon, his crops would be ruined.

One of the Christians challenged the farmer: “If we pray for rain and rain comes quickly, will you become a follower of Jesus Christ?” The farmer agreed that he would, whereupon she knelt on the ground and clasped her hands in prayer. But before a word could pass her lips, her companion tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Wait a minute! Would you mind if we didn’t pray until after we reach our destination? We’re not carrying any umbrellas!”

Umbrella, sun tan lotion, and prayer stool

Prayer, of course, isn’t just about asking God for things. There are prayers which express sorrow for the wrong choices we’ve made. There are prayers of thanksgiving for the good gifts which we’ve received. And best of all, there’s the kind of prayer which just praises God for being God. If we wrote down our prayers, some would be thank-you notes, but others would be love-letters! What all prayer has in common, is that it’s about us choosing to reach out and deliberately take part in a conversation with God.

I’m speaking about prayer because it helps us to understand today’s reading from the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, which presents us with some very mysterious images.

Today we’re given the picture of a great city, protected by walls with twelve gates. Inside the city, we find God – God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no Temple, no Church, no place of worship in this city. None is needed – for God Himself is there for us to speak to and enjoy.

We don’t yet live in this city. One day, when we reach heaven, we shall live with God. But right now, we’re still here on Earth. So we need to do things to help us connect with God. We need church buildings. We need the sacraments – we need the Eucharist, in which Jesus the Lamb of God is hidden in the form of bread. And we need to make a time and a place in our lives to reach out to God – to pray.

Today’s Gospel contains an extraordinary promise. “If you love me,” says Jesus, “My Father and I will come and make our home with you!” If we love someone, we choose to spend time with that person – we choose to share our innermost thoughts with that person – we give part of our very life to that person. And here Jesus makes a wonderful promise: if you show your love for me by giving time for prayer, have no doubt that my Father and I will be with you. You might not sense God’s presence. Prayer might not lead to wonderful feelings – indeed, at times, our prayer can feel very dry and tedious – but be sure of this: if you do pray, God will be with you.

How, then, can we make prayer part of our daily life? I’m guessing that most of us gathered here probably learned to pray as children: “God bless Mummy and Daddy; I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong; bless the people I know who are ill.” But sometimes our prayer life doesn’t “grow up” as we move through life. As adults, we need to learn other, more mature, ways of praying.

For instance: We know that life isn’t perfect, that things can and do go wrong. We try to make life as comfortable as we can for our children. But as adults, we have worries about money, about relationships, about illness… things which are beyond our power to control. An adult prayer in the face of these things says: “God, give me the strength to face those things I cannot change, and when I can’t avoid suffering, I choose to unite it to Jesus, dying on the Cross.” In that way, our personal suffering can be used by Jesus to help pay the price of the world’s sin, and we become more closely united to Him. Remember, the more closely we are united to Jesus, the closer we are to being the saints that God is calling us to be.

We can also learn to confide in Jesus as one adult friend confides in another. We can, and should, use set texts like the Lord’s Prayer for our prayers – but it’s good also to speak to Jesus in our own words. Remember that He loves you, and nothing you can say to Him will shock or disappoint Him – He already knows your innermost heart. So take time to tell Jesus about what’s worrying you, and what’s delighting you; this is a truly adult prayer. Even seemingly trivial things can be a suitable conversation in prayer – for if you can tell something to your best friend on Earth, why could you not say the same thing to your True Friend in heaven? So remember not only to tell Jesus about your problems and needs, but to speak of the good things happening in your life – and then say “thank you”, for all the goodness in the created world was made by the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We should also make time for expressing our sorrow – but before we do this we must have a good idea of the kind of life God wishes us to lead. Sin comes into our life whenever we know that God is asking us to choose to do something, or choose to avoid something, but we make the wrong choice. When we recognise this, the very best thing we can do is to be honest with God immediately – “O Lord, I am sorry, I have made the wrong choice!” – and if it concerns a more serious matter, to confess it also in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now, a word of caution. There are some ways of praying that we should avoid. The gates to God’s city are marked with the names of the Tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles – a sign that the way to reach God is by following the teaching of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. You will find books and websites which suggest other ways of praying, ways based on religions from the East, or rooted in “New Age” spirituality. Now the Catholic Church rejects nothing good from other religions – but not everything is good. Some Eastern ways of meditating are about emptying our mind rather than trying to make a connection with God; this is not true, God-seeking, prayer. And there are many New Age books about angel-power or spiritual energy; again, these aren’t appropriate ways of praying because we profess that God alone is our Lord; we don’t need to try to make any other kind of spiritual connection. If we do choose to speak to saints or angels in our prayers, this must always be to ask them to pray to God on our behalf. I won’t say more about this from the pulpit, because it’s a very deep topic, but if it’s relevant to you, please do come and have a chat in confidence, at a suitable time.

Finally, consider one thing you might have done as a child but perhaps no longer do – do you kneel for your private prayers? Kneeling is childlike, but not childish – it reminds us of how great God is and how little we are in his presence. I know that for some of us, this is no longer physically possible; but if you can kneel, I encourage you do so so, are least for the first couple of minutes of your prayer. Scripture says: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will raise you up.”

Remember, to fail to plan is to plan to fail. So make a plan. Decide when and where you are going to pray in the days and weeks to come. Kneel in God’s presence, if you can. Treat God with the respect which God always deserves. Prepare for the Lord your thank-you note and your love-letter. But pray with faith. If you’re going to ask God for a fine day on Bank Holiday Monday, buy the sun-tan lotion first!

Jokes adapted from texts by Ravi Zacharias and “Sermon Jokes”.

Some inspiration – and much further good advice on prayer – from Elizabeth Wang.